I thought a 750-page book about Israel’s covert assassination programs would exceed my appetite for the subject. Wrong. In one sense, the book is a history of Israel, as told through its targeted-killing programs. But it’s also a story of the costs and consequences of warfare conducted primarily via covert methods (including torture and drone strikes). Bergman depicts an Israeli government that, although largely successful in defending the nation, is increasingly corroded by its accumulated moral lapses.
A real feat of nonfiction writing—economist Galbraith somehow manages to turn his dire warnings about the fate of the world economy into a propulsive read, with a tone that’s both erudite and accessible. My favorite Galbraith thesis is that there is no “free market”: a market is a thing constructed by the government, and the insistence otherwise by both political parties is a block to progress.
Publishing is tough all over. Over the course of the decade, New York went from weekly to biweekly, and this year was sold to Vox Media. But issue by issue, the writing and photography and design remain consistently great. Especially the political reporting. For instance, this recent feature on Joe Biden: “he took off, running through the parade like a dingo with somebody’s newborn.”
QOTSA is one of my favorite bands even though I don’t like all their albums. I take this as a good sign: they don’t pander to expectations. I had Like Clockwork on repeat while making Practical Typography. These are straight-up rock albums that are also unexpectedly rich with emotion, light and dark.
This one, I had on repeat while writing the first edition of Typography for Lawyers. The Divine Comedy is a cross between the melodic songcraft of XTC and the mordant wit of Randy Newman. If you like “The Complete Banker”—the best song written about the 2008 recession—you might like the rest. If not, forget it.
There is a category of movies I dislike for being insufficiently cinematic: meaning, I walk out feeling they could’ve worked equally well as a play, or book, or radio show. MM:FR is the opposite. It is a great action movie. It might be the greatest action movie. But it’s also a totally exuberant work of filmmaking: motion, sound, color, editing, effects, production design, acting, the whole deal. By the end, I felt like the true hero was director George Miller, for simply causing it to exist.
A chilling movie about American foreign policy that hits all the marks an action thriller is supposed to, while also never going where you expect. For instance, where most films would give us a car chase, Sicario’s best action scene is in a traffic jam. The screenplay, acting, and cinematography are fantastic. If Mad Max is a work of exuberance, Sicario is a work of precision and control.
Ostensibly, it’s a fast-paced, retro-arcade-style shooter / puzzle game. But more broadly, it’s a meditation on what makes video games fun at all. Games get their effect not so much from the pixels on the screen, but from what we as players bring to the action.* As games get ever bigger budgets, the player’s role has often been reduced to being merely a watcher of expensive scenery. But in Hotline Miami, you will feel fear, elation, frustration, anger, and relief, repeatedly. And then it will be over, and you will say “how’d they do that?”
* Also true of fonts
I didn’t expect to like this game. I didn’t even want to like this game. It seemed like the kind of vapid big-budget shooter that Hotline Miami makes fun of. And if you want to play it that way, you can. But one comes to realize it’s much more of a hunting and survival game than a shooting game, in the sense that you are stalking prey (human and animal) and they, in turn, are stalking you. The mash-up of the human and animal worlds is very well done. (And makes me wish for a game where you can actually play as an animal—does it exist?)
From about 1982 to 2011, computer screens were stuck in the resolution range of 72–80 pixels per inch. The arrival of antialiased text in the 1990s was an improvement, because it made better use of those pixels. But the idea of computer screens with significantly higher resolutions was considered wishful thinking. For typographers, this was an especially painful reality to accept, because fonts suffered the most. Then in 2011, Apple introduced an iPhone that displayed 326 pixels per inch. Suddenly, we dared to dream again. Over the next five years—so fast!—high-res screens arrived on tablets and laptops and desktop monitors. There are many, many things I dislike about today’s software. But man, I will tolerate all of it to keep these beautiful high-resolution screens. (After about five years using a pair of Dell P2415Q monitors, I have now switched to a pair of LG Ultrafines.)
My first synthesizer (in 1984) was the (still well-regarded) Juno 106. But what every teenage synthesist wanted was a Prophet 5, because that’s what rich rock stars on MTV had. By the time I had enough adult money to contemplate buying a vintage Prophet 5, I discovered that Dave Smith, inventor of the Prophet 5, had released the new Prophet 6. If the worst possible outcome of today’s technology trends is an Amazoogle Home Surveillance Device, then the Prophet 6 is the best: a completely analog synthesizer made with the manufacturing precision that wasn’t available in the ’70s or ’80s, and the modern conveniences we synthesists have come to appreciate (e.g., onboard effects & arpeggiator). Best of all, it’s a blast to play and sounds wonderful.
I got the Juiced CrossCurrent X, but the idea is becoming widespread: put a motor on a bicycle so that when you pedal, the motor adds power proportionate to your effort. If you like biking, it’s ridiculously fun. If you don’t like biking, maybe this will overcome your objections. In Los Angeles, e-bikes can go up to 28mph, and use on-street bike lanes. So during rush hour, I am the fastest vehicle in Hollywood. I got the Juiced bike because it also has a thumb throttle that works without pedaling, for moments—say, busy stoplights or steep hills—where you just want to lay on some power. Yes, I do.
Happy new decade!
[I have not been compensated to use or recommend any of the stuff mentioned above.]